Paula Deen Enterprises had an agreement with Caesar’s Entertainment, Harrah’s parent company, to operate Deen-themed restaurants in four Caesar’s locations, including Cherokee.
But those restaurants have closed after the 66-year-old Deen admitted to using the N-word in the past. The information came to light because a former female employee has sued Deen and her brother, claiming she was discriminated against when she worked at one of Deen’s restaurants in Georgia. A couple weeks ago, a court deposition from Deen was made public.
In the deposition, Deen recalled using the N-word after a black man had robbed the bank she once worked at and held a gun to her head. She later said that she had used it other times as well but did not remember when or how often. Deen did clarify that she doesn’t use the word anymore.
“That’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the 60s in the South,” Deen said in the deposition. She went on the Today Show last week to apologize and said she is not a racist.
Still, Caesar’s has decided to sever ties with Paula Deen Enterprises, as have other companies such as Walmart and the Food Network.
“While we appreciate Paula’s sincere apologies for statements she made in her past that she recently disclosed during a deposition given in response to a lawsuit, after thoughtful consideration of their impact, we have mutually decided that it is in the best interests of both parties to part ways at this time,” said Jan Jones Blackhurst, executive vice president of communications and government affairs for Caesars Entertainment, in a news release last week.
The restaurant location inside Harrah’s Cherokee Casino will be rebranded. A new menu is currently in the works as is a new name. The untitled eatery will take on a coffee shop appeal and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“That is the type of thing that we need here,” said Leeann Bridges, vice president of marketing for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort.
At the entrance of Paula Deen’s Kitchen is a gift shop peddling Deen’s recipe books and cookware. The casino will sell off the last of its Paula Deen goods and then convert the shop into a lounge area, Bridges said. And despite having to revamp the look and feel of the former Paula Deen’s Kitchen, the restaurant space is and will remain open.
“We don’t anticipate closing at all, especially for this time of year,” Bridges said. “We are very motivated to make everything seamless.”
The biggest struggle for Harrah’s will be ensuring that people know the restaurant location is open — albeit not as Paula Deen’s — and are aware of its new motif.
“We will have to go out and have a campaign to really support our new restaurant,” Bridges said.
Following the decision by Caesar’s, members of the public commented that the casino operator and media are making a mountain out of a molehill.
“You have people who are very passionate and who are very supportive of Paula Deen who are not happy with our decision,” Bridges said, adding that some have gone as far as to say they will no longer patronize Harrah’s Cherokee. “Then we have had other people who are supportive of the decision.”
Thus far, the casino has not seen a negative or positive change in revenues from Paula Deen’s Kitchen.
“We have not seen a drop off or anything like that,” Bridges said.